Is it easier to get a job as a PhD / doctorate, or to get a Masters degree and an MBA? The short answer is ‘yes,’ it is easy to get a job with a Masters / MBA combination than with a PhD. How can that be?
You have to think about the supply and demand of a PhD degree versus the supply and demand of two Masters degree. Before I answer any further, I want to give a few caveats to the answer.
- This is based on doing a technical PhD or a PhD in the social sciences, like doing a doctorate in business administration. How do I know? I have a Chemical Engineering undergraduate, a Masters in Management Science, and a PhD in Business Administration.
- This is based on personal experience, and based on observations with many other people around me that either did a similar degree (ie. my engineering friends that did an MBA) or my colleagues in academia.
- This is part of my r3ciprocity project, where I am trying to help others who are graduate students or are thinking about grad school. I created a sharing economy proofreading platform, but also want to help others with YouTube videos and these posts. There were many people that helped me get my PhD and become a business school professor, so I just want to help you in all the ways that I can. Whether it actually helps is another question. 🙂
- For reference, I am going to specify that the second Masters is an MBA (Masters in Business Administration) because it has relevance in the marketplace. Any degree in that is not in demand (i.e. underwater basket-weaving), no matter if it is a Masters degree or a doctorate is not going to benefit you from a utilitarian view because others do not see the value in the degree. It is not that you are not going to gain a tremendous amount education value from the degree. The problem is whether you are going to get a job with that degree.
Why is it easier to get a job with technical Masters (i.e. engineering degree, science degree, computer science degree) and an MBA, than with a PhD? The PhD has a lot more value from an educational sense, but few people understand what a PhD is or what somebody with a PhD does. If I were you, and you were just thinking about the utility of your degree to get a job, than by all means, you should pursue the Masters and MBA option.
Want to watch the YouTube video instead?:
A PhD Is A Specialist Degree And An MBA Is A Generalist Degree
A PhD degree is a relatively specialized degree, and there are only limited number of spots where you can find a job that fits this skill set. The issue is not that you cannot perform those skills, but the issue is how others who are offering the job perceive how you fit within that position. Case in point: If you do a PhD in Business Administration, you will learn a great deal more than an MBA and you will be able to teach MBAs. However, if you seek an MBA position, you will be generally overlooked because few will understand this fact.
Specialist degrees like PhDs have limited number of positions for PhDs around the world. For example, you will likely do research or teach at universities or research institutions, and there are only a few of these available around the world. Yes, there are many universities, but if you compare the number of universities to companies, you will quickly see that there are many more businesses than universities in the world. There are just fewer opportunities available for PhDs.
PhDs Are Just As Willing To Work As People With Masters Degrees
Many people believe that it is the PhD candidate that is unwilling to take lower positions, but I really do not think this is the case. I think this is a complete misnomer with the MBA vs PhD debate.
While you do gain a lot of specialized knowledge from the PhD that far exceeds what you would gain in a masters degree, things like understanding research design and how to write a technical document, most people who have not had experience with a PhD do not understand what a PhD is. Why is that people do not understand what PhDs do? I believe it is because there are so few of them that non-PhD audiences are just unfamiliar to what you do during the PhD program. Because people do not understand what a PhD is,it reduces the number of industry opportunities for people with a PhD. It is less that the candidate does not want to work, but rather the audience cannot categorize or position what the candidate is about. The audience who is doing the hiring is screening out PhD candidates before they get the opportunities to show off their skills and abilities.
For example, when I was looking for a position before I became a university professor (I was in between completing my PhD and finding an academic position), I had a family member that is a recruiter tell me that I would have better success with my resume if I removed the PhD from my resume.
This person pointed out that people who are hiring are either intimidated by the PhD, or that they simply do not understand what it was about. That is crazy. But, there are many things in life like that – there is a whole academic literature on classification and the importance of classification (See Elizabeth Pontikes, Giacomo Negro, Michael Hannan, and Ezra Zuckerman‘s work). It is a matter of people fitting you into a ‘bin,’ and if you do not fit that ‘bin’ than they will quickly find another candidate to fit that classification. We, has human beings, typically find it difficult to make sense of things we are unfamiliar with. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, it is just that we are human.
The Masters Vs PhD issue definitely favors the Masters in this case of specialism. Want to read a cool paper that quantitatively shows this specialist discount? Check out this paper in our premier journal.
There Are Fewer Environments That Fully Utilize The Skill-set Of A PhD
I also think you that there are just fewer environments that match the job characteristics of someone with a PhD. Obtaining a MBA allows you to be quite well-rounded and apply your skills to many settings. For example, you get a smattering of courses in many different disciplines in a Business School. You will learn about finance, strategy, accounting, marketing, and operations. This means that you can apply your general knowledge to more areas within a business. Most of all the other knowledge can be acquired on the job.
PhDs on the other hand will be an expert at one discipline, such as finance. They will know all of the ins and outs of asset pricing, for example. This means that if they take a generalist job, such as working as a manager within a manufacturing plant, that much of the knowledge they acquired about finance does not apply. This is, of course, is fine and happens across all degrees, but it might be more so with a PhD than another PhD. This is why it is very common for PhDs to move great distances to obtain jobs, or even take considerable pay-cuts to use their comparable skill-sets in the workplace. It also is common for MBAs at business schools to make more than their professors (This is called salary inversion). The reason is that people with PhDs might trade off being able to better apply their skill-set for a more relevant job.
Why Do People Choose To Do A PhD?
If it is easier to get a job with two Masters degrees than a PhD, why do people actually get a PhD? The obvious response is that many people get a PhD without realizing this fact. I think this is only part of the story. There is far much more to it. Actually, if you talk to people about why they choose to get a PhD, you will get a heterogeneous collection of answers. There are as many unique answers to pursue as a PhD as there are people that are pursuing them.
- A big reason is that people pursue studying something that they love. They are willing to take a pay cut for this luxury.
- Many people pursue a PhD because they like the challenge of it. I think I am more in this camp. To me, I find it quite challenging, but this challenge is enjoyable because it never stops.
- Another reason why people choose a PhD over doing another Masters degree is because academics run in the family. Just like most careers, people follow what their parents did. Why? You simply have more information about these choices, and thus, you are more likely to choose the academic life path.
- I think for a group a people, they see the reward is long into the future. They see the many great opportunities if you keep pursuing your dream. There are many opportunities that you do get by being a PhD. Probably less because you are any different, but that other people view you differently. For example, it is far easier to have a conversation with a senior level manager at a company if you say that you are Dr. So-and-So.
- If you are coming from a different country, you can increase your mobility dramatically by having a good PhD. For example, I was able to move to the US from Canada because of my degree.
This is just a small number of the reasons why people choose to get a PhD. Every person I talk you about why they want to get a PhD tells a different story and motivation.
What Do You Do With A PhD Versus Getting Another Masters Degree?
Many people think that most people will go into industry if they get a PhD, but this is definitely not the emphasis in most PhD programs. The training is largely academic, but there is nothing wrong with that. As once was told to me, there is nothing as practical as a good academic theory. Just think of all the applications that are derived from E=MC^2. Even when you get a PhD in Business, Innovation, or Entrepreneurship, perhaps even more so, the emphasis is on research and academic education. I can personally only think of a few people that when into industry to start a business, create new technologies, or work at a large company like Google (See Joel Podolny for a relatively famous case).
A large portion of the people trained as PhDs, especially in a business school, will become (business school) professors. If you get these positions, this is a good career, although there are difficulties, like competitive demands and keeping up with the workload (Professors do not get the summers off, contrary to popular belief). Academia is generally very competitive, so you are constantly trying to think of the next project / paper that you have to write to be competitive in the labor market. The people that go to industry after usually have a degree like a DBA (Doctorate of Business Administration). These programs are more focused at providing a doctoral education for those people that are interested in industry or consulting. They are generally very good options for many people that do not want to do academics / research.
What do you learn in a PhD program? Generally, you are making sense of the world in a very generic sense, like how do people think, and why do we believe that people are somehow different than other people? For example, if you do a PhD in Innovation, you might study how people develop innovations and what are the most successful strategies for innovating in a company. Much of these ideas will draw upon psychology, sociology, and economics. If you are interested in doing a PhD, I have a pretty good resource on tips for applying to PhD programs.
If you want to learn more about what you can do with a PhD in Innovation, you can watch the following video:
What Do You Do With An Masters Degree Versus PhD Degree?
One of the key things that you can do with an Masters degree is to broaden your knowledge and skill-set. If I were to choose this path, I would think about how you can broad your skill-set so it makes sense for you. The obvious combination is a technical Masters (ie. in Chemistry, Math) and a practical professional Masters (MBA or Masters of Nursing). For example, in addition to understanding the technical issues of the problem, you will know about the business side, like thinking about business growth (I have a blog post on business growth you might like).
However, you can get combinations that make sense in other ways. For example, let’s say you wanted to get into software development in a hardware company, than it would make sense if you did a Masters in computer science, and another in electrical engineering.
What you want to do is think about combinations that make sense, and make you more competitive in the marketplace. For example, doing a Masters in fine arts and another one in computer science makes if you want to go into computer animation. The biggest reason to do a Masters degree is to just get a very in-depth understanding of some subject manner that you would not be able to adequately study in an undergraduate degree program.
The main advantage with two Masters degrees is simply due to you wanting to go into industry. It makes sense because people / recruiters can understand what you are about. It is a bit more difficult to make a convincing case if the Masters degrees are much different, but if they are complementary and create a story about you as a person, than it is OK to pursue.
You can want a video on dual degrees if you are bored:
How Do You Choose Between A PhD And Multiple Masters?
I would recommend that you create spreadsheet or a list where you write your options down on paper, and seriously think about the pros and cons of either option for you. Think about all of the criteria that personally matter to you and write these down. Then, try to rule out the option that does not fit these criteria. You will likely not be able to pick the best option – this is difficult to do and requires a fair bit of communication with significant others in your life. However, at the very least, this exercise will force you to think more critically about your future career.
What About Getting A Second Masters?
Honestly, I would just take sometime to think about what you want to do with your life. If you are wanting to building a knowledge base in a particular area, then getting a second Master’s degree might make a lot of sense. However, if you are just getting a second Master’s degree just to build more credentials, I would really consider that you think about this. The degree has less value than the knowledge that you learn. Take some time to explore what you want to do in life, and really prioritize your life.
In summary, rather than think about how the market perceives you and thinking about your job prospects, I would suggest for you to think about what makes you valuable in the marketplace and what you will enjoy doing 15 years from now. Would you rather see yourself doing research or being a professor? (check out a simple beginners’ guide of writing research papers) Then, you should seriously think about doing a PhD. If you see yourself as a manager or having an important role in a company, than pursue the dual Masters. Both of these options (ie. the dual Masters or PhD) are good options if they make sense for you.